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Life vs. Unlife: Interspecies Solidarity and Companionism in Contemporary American Literature

By Barnaby McLaughlin

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Abstract

This dissertation explores the representations of interspecies relationships in contemporary American literature. In recent years, interdisciplinary attention, variously referred to under the umbrella categories of Posthumanism," "Human-Animal Studies," "Animality Studies," and "Critical Animal Studies," have called into question the anthropocentric traditions across multiple disciplines. However, much of this recent attention still focuses on animals in the abstract, which is to say that they rarely concern themselves with actual animals or our relationships to them. Even when a real animal manages to penetrate a text, such as Jacques Derrida's cat in the opening pages of The Animal That Therefore I Am, that animal quickly vanishes amid the anthropocentric concerns of the author. Through the close reading of various contemporary America texts, fiction and non-fiction, this dissertation focuses on the representation of interspecies interactions in these texts as a way to understand and interrogate the affective possibilities that they present in quotidian life.

This dissertation begins by looking at John Steinbeck's work and his consistent interests in other species which culminates in one of his final books, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. Steinbeck offers an interesting new ethic in Travels with Charley that asserts that the solidarity between all species arises from all life's singular duty to persist - to go on. From here, Toni Morrison's Beloved and The Bluest Eye are taken up as polemics against the biopolitical regimes of biologism and liberal humanism. Through Morrison's work it is evident that it is not simply a failure of ethics that lead to the slave trade, but rather, it was the insidiousness of these two ideologies that created the possibilities for slavery. While Slavery has ceased to exist in America, the ideologies that made it possible persist. The final chapter considers the logical conclusion of liberal humanism by looking at post-apocalyptic narratives: Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Paolo Bacigalupi's "The People of Sand and Slag," Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and his Dog." This dissertation concludes with an exploration of the anime film, Ghost in the Shell, as a possible exit point from the contemporary ideologies of biologism and liberal humanism. In the face of ever advancing technology, Ghost in the Shell suggests that the end of liberal humanism will not be an apocalypse, but rather a gradual erasure as humanity is forced to consider life beyond organic species.

Submitter

Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2015
Pages 143
Department English
Degree Doctor of Philosophy in English
URL https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/oa_diss/398/
Language English
University The University of Rhode Island
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Tags
  1. Animal roles
  2. Animals in literature.
  3. Human-animal relationships
  4. Human-animal studies
  5. Literature
  6. open access
  7. peer-reviewed
Badges
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed